COVID-19 cancels Siskiyou homeless count, Yreka mayor wants to continue tackling problem
The annual "point in time" homeless count that normally takes place the final 10 days of January in Siskiyou County and throughout the nation has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Duane Kegg, Yreka's mayor and chair of the Siskiyou Homelessness Coalition – Northern State Continuum of Care said conducing the count is a safety issue and too much of a risk for the volunteers.
“At this time, it is not a safe thing to do,” said Kegg, who hopes the count will take place next year. Siskiyou County has participated in the PIT effort for since 2018.
Volunteers will still count those that are considered homeless but are currently housed in areas like motels, trailers, and jail. The results are tabulated and sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which coordinates the PIT count across the country. The Northern State Continuum of Care also includes six other counties in the North State, including Shasta, Tehama, Trinity, Modoc, Plumas, and Lassen.
The Siskiyou Homelessness Coalition – Northern State Continuum of Care brings together groups such as Behavioral Health, Human Services, county supervisors, the cities of Yreka, Mount Shasta, and Weed, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, resource centers and other organizations to help fight the national problem of homelessness. Kegg said the PIT count helps determine how many individuals’ situations can be remedied and how to prevent others from falling into homelessness.
Questions on the PIT survey include where the individual is sleeping that night, what brought the person to Siskiyou County, and if the person has been continuously homeless for at least one year.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires every county in the country to count its unsheltered homeless residents in January, during odd-number years, although Kegg said Siskiyou County has been doing it more often as the numbers are important for measuring trends.
This year, HUD is allowing counties to apply for an exemption to opt out of all or part of the count.
“It’s been a very tough time for the homeless trying to get help and resources due to COVID,” Kegg said, adding there are resources in the county to assist them.
One issue is getting homeless individuals to use the resources, Kegg said, and many of are experiencing mental health issues. Another issue: there is no homeless shelter in Siskiyou County, although one is in the process of being built by the nonprofit Beacon of Hope.
Kegg added that Siskiyou County over the summer, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, received trailers for homeless to live in while keeping a safe social distance from one another. They hope to receive more, Kegg said.
Kegg said despite the colder weather and and the pandemic there has been an increase in the homeless population in the county over the past year. Besides people losing jobs due to the pandemic, another major factor are local wildfires,Slater Fire, which displaced hundreds of people, including the Slater Fire in Happy Camp and the Almeda Fire over the border in Jackson County, Oregon.
Kegg said the fires destroyed areas where transients had been camping out and said a number of those people have moved in to parts of Siskiyou County, such as Yreka.
“There are a lot of people who were living off the grid that were affected,” Kegg said.
Kegg said he'd like to start a summer homeless count in Siskiyou County to bring to light that homelessness is an issue in rural areas like Siskiyou County and in turn, help gain more funding to help the situation.